The former UK Coal Mining company has been fined £50,000 for safety failings that led to an underground pit explosion and the evacuation of more than 200 miners from Kellingley Colliery, in North Yorkshire – Yorkshire's last remaining deep mine.
Leeds Crown Court heard that an explosive mixture of flammable gases had accumulated close to the area where miners were working. This was due to a safety curtain, designed to keep gases safely behind the coal face, being inadequately maintained. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the curtain was damaged with one section cut and another removed, making it ineffective and allowing the explosive methane mixture to slowly move closer to the working area and potential ignition sources. It was likely ignition occurred by sandstone falling on to sandstone.
Around 218 miners were safely evacuated from Kellingley's 501's District. Dozens of further minor explosions took place just behind the coal face as accumulated gas ignited. It was nearly three weeks before production was able to resume.
After the hearing, HSE Principal Mines Inspector Bob Leeming said, “If the explosion had occurred 20 minutes earlier, ten men would have been right in it and we could have been dealing with a fatal incident. However, this happened near the end of the shift and the workers were at a safe enough distance when the gas ignited. In only slightly different circumstances, the outcome could have been very different.”
He continued, “UK Coal Mining Ltd failed to recognise the risks of localised sandstone falls, that are part of the normal sequence of mining, nor properly specify the design and standard to be maintained of the protective curtain. In addition the workforce had not been fully educated in the purpose of the curtain and its vital importance in controlling the gas fringe at the tailgate end of the face. This case highlights the importance of adequate risk assessments and the need to properly educate and inform the workforce so that control measures are understood and properly implemented.”
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